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Should we measure the performance of dyslexics differently?

Should we measure dyslexics differently?

Should we measure dyslexics differently?

How do you measure the performance of someone with a complex pattern of strengths and weaknesses? Do you ignore the weaknesses and focus on the strengths, take an average of both or use some other method? Do you treat them as an individuals or compare them to their peers, who are likely to have a more even profile in terms of performance?

The need for measurement

In many professions we spend our time solving difficult problems and then documenting and codifying how we have achieved that success. This puts structure around what we learned through the initial “creative” process to make it replicable. Then, using the methods, tools and precedents that we have developed, quite complex work can be delegated to people less experienced than ourselves.

Of course, those people have to be carefully chosen, to ensure they have the prerequisite knowledge and skills. This of course allows lots of development opportunities for our people as they move though their careers.

However, it also means that we must put in place a rigorous and ongoing process of evaluating the capability and competence of our staff. Typically, for each “grade” of staff we define “what good looks like” and then measure people against that standard. Being professionals we tend to do that in a fair amount of detail… across the entire spectrum of capabilities that a person could possibly have and naturally, we assume that everyone should have all of these characteristics!

The competency framework

How does this work? This is where competency frameworks come in. They tend to set out the required capability or performance level for a role or grade across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. Leadership, People Management, Technical Skills, Sales Ability, Risk Management, Operational Efficiency etc). Then, the performance of an individual can be measured against that framework so as to highlight strengths and development areas. This is intended to be a very positive process, helping people to understand where to focus their efforts to improve their performance and hence to progress in their careers.

The challenge

This works well for those with a fairly standard profile, providing a valuable benchmark against which to judge their performance. However, it works much less well for those with non-standard cognitive styles, including dyslexics. We of course tend to have a balance of strengths and weaknesses that diverge from the average. So for some of us, this will include “development areas” that can only partially be mitigated, if at all.

Given that, in common with most organisations, there are relatively few senior roles in professions vs the number of entrants, this process is also linked with performance management and promotion. This in turn means it is important to make relative comparisons between our people, which can exaggerate both the positives and the negatives.

This risks this poses tend to be exaggerated by a number of factors:

Everyone can spot weaknesses: Weaknesses tend to be obvious to most people and competency frameworks risk these being pointed out year after year, regardless of whether the individual has superb compensating strengths. This can be unhelpful.

The exceptional is not visible to everyone: There is a high educational barrier to entry in most professions. So if you have managed to pass the recruitment hurdle the likelihood is that you have exceptional strengths in some areas. Unfortunately, unlike weaknesses, strengths that significantly exceed the average can be difficult to measure as not everyone can see them so they are not always observed.

Less flexibility in junior rolesIn more junior grades, there is usually less flexibility regarding how work is undertaken and less need for the typical compensating strengths that dyslexics often have (e.g. Creativity or lateral thinking). This makes it harder to demonstrate capability or to flex the work to fit your profile.

The strong rarely seek help… so their strength is not seen Those who have significant compensating strengths will often be able to undertake work with a lower level of supervision than others. This means their performance is not observed. This can make gathering evidence to demonstrate competence difficult in some areas.

So what is the conclusion?

As usual I think there is no simple answer. I am not advocating setting a different set of performance standards for dyslexics. However, it is important that competency frameworks are developed in a way that embraces a diversity of cognitive styles – particularly those that result in a pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Equally, I am not advocating differential treatment through the performance assessment process. However, this process does need to embrace the different characteristics of this group, identify and reward the “highs” as well as identifying and taking a proportionate view regarding the “lows”.

There is no doubt that many organisations strive to achieve this. However, it is not an easy thing to get right and dyslexics should therefore assume at they cary the burden of ensuring that others see their strengths and do not overly dwell on their weaknesses. This is quite a responsibility, and not an easy one to deliver on.

Finally… many of the typical strengths of dyslexics are highly prized within the professions and are almost prerequisites to reach the most senior roles. So, as long as weaknesses can be held in proportion, the outlook for many should be a good one.

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4 Comments

  1. margaret malpas margaret malpas
    19 December 2012    

    I think this post raises lots of interesting points. What if we turn it on its head. Forget about dyslexia for a moment. Most organisations are really bad at identifying and making use of talent. This is particularly true where the person is operating in ways that will be necessary in the future, but have not been even identified and codified yet, ie they are ahead of the stream. So if we look at how we attempt to manage talent, then maybe that gives us some interesting thoughts about how to manage the dyslexics. Some of these individuals will be very talented too, others less so. What they will have though is a very spikey profile just like your extremely talented.

    In terms of the weaknesses, I think working with the individual if possible to do joint problem solving to identify potential reasonable adjustments could be a way forward here. We are still only scratching the surface of what is possible in reasonable adjustments both in technology and personal organisational behaviours. So there is a lot of scope in this area for creative thought.

  2. William Chaplin William Chaplin
    20 December 2012    

    You state you are not advocating setting a different set of performance standards for dyslexics. However, the sentence could only have been constructed because either the current performance standards do not work for dyslexics or do not appear to work at best and at worst do not work for anyone. There are two other reasons for the question the first is because you wish to help dysletics or fear your current policies could be seen to require validation. However, it is important that competency frameworks are developed in a way that embraces a diversity of cognitive styles. The last part of the sentence; ‘ particularly those that result in a pattern of strengths and weaknesses.’ Seems to indicate a belief that you and all your other employees do not have a similar pattern; or that dyslexic people have greater strengths allowing them to progress above their ability; or weaknesses which need justification or allowances.

    If you were not advocating differential treatment you would not have written this request. In simple terms if you replace dyslexic with women your statement may not have been written. What you are actually saying is that you cannot or will not change the performance assessment process. It might be difficult to embrace the different characteristics of this group, identify and reward the “highs” as well as identifying and taking a proportionate view regarding the “lows” and if your assessment process was fit-for-purpose it would cope with highs and lows. It suggests you have identified that dyslexics have greater highs or greater lows which your assessment process cannot cope with.

    If any organisation found a system that was not working the organisations would look unfavourable on an employee that only strived to make a system work. People are often described as crucial to any organisation and therefore should require an employee to make the system work or create a system that does.
    However, it is not an easy thing to get right and WOMEN should therefore assume that they carry the burden of ensuring that others see their strengths and do not overly dwell on their weaknesses. This is quite a responsibility, and not an easy one to deliver on.

    Finally… many of the typical strengths of WOMEN are highly prized within the professions and are almost prerequisites to reach the most senior roles. The use of women fails in this respect. 3% of a Universities cohort that are dyslexic became CEO. On average 28% of each cohort were dyslexic and the University introduced mentors for the dyslexic students. The mentors all were successful business people who were financially stable. The sentence: ‘So, as long as weaknesses can be held in proportion, the outlook for many should be a good one.’ Identifies the perspective of the question and is more honest. The writer has identified that he has identified a group with weaknesses, but valuable, and a system is needed to adapt the failing assessment process.

    The need for measurement

    In many professions we spend our time solving difficult problems and then documenting and codifying how we have achieved that success. You have identified a company that has a focus on success and looks at failure or weakness as unacceptable. This puts structure around what we learned through the initial “creative” process to make it replicable. Structure can be difficult for anyone who is neuro-diverse; Dyslexia can be placed within that global term and outside of other terms within, and it is likely structure will be a weakness of both your organisation and a dyslexic employee. Then, using the methods, tools and precedents that we have developed, quite complex work can be delegated to people less experienced than ourselves. Any organisation should delegate, but I fail to see the connection with dyslexia, unless you are less creative and require replication of both process and employees.

    Of course, those WOMEN have to be carefully chosen, to ensure they have the prerequisite knowledge and skills. This of course allows lots of development opportunities for our WOMEN as they move though their careers.
    The above is a standard phrase was in the past used to justify organisations procedures that were less than favourable for WOMEN and race and always followed a statement of the company structure.

    However, it also means that we must put in place a rigorous and on-going process of evaluating the capability and competence of our staff. Are you suggesting that you currently do not have one or that other companies are inferior to your own? Typically, for each “grade” of staff we define “what good looks like”. I have never been able to quantify what good looks like only what I think is good. I would suspect few facts form the measure people only opinions to apply against a standard. Being professionals we tend to do that in a fair amount of detail… across the entire spectrum of capabilities that a person could possibly have and naturally, we assume that everyone should have all of these characteristics! A characteristic is quantifiable but it is doubtful it forms anything but a small amount of the professional detail. It might be accurate and effective but it will not be quantifiable.

    The competency framework

    How does this work? This is where competency frameworks come in. They tend to set out the required capability or performance level for a role or grade across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. Leadership (opinion), People Management (opinion), Technical Skills (mixture), Sales Ability (at best a mixture), Risk Management (opinion), Operational Efficiency (opinion) etc). Then, the performance of an individual can be measured against that framework (applied is more accurate as it cannot be replicated; two people will produce different measurements) so as to highlight strengths and development areas. This is intended (intention and reality is different) to be a very positive process, helping people to understand where to focus their efforts to improve their performance and hence to progress in their careers. Is this help mentoring or just feedback? Every successful business mentor had areas of their business they could not improve, they succeeded because they identified their failings and employed people to carry out those tasks. Often some had become multi-millionaires without understanding net and gross cost.

    The challenge

    This works well for those with a fairly standard profile, providing a valuable benchmark against which to judge their performance. However, it works much less well for those with non-standard cognitive styles, including dyslexics. In other words you require standardisation. We of course tend to have a balance of strengths and weaknesses that diverge from the average. So for some of us, this will include “development areas” that can only partially be mitigated, if at all. You also indicate that regardless of a person’s worth or ability unless they achieve the critical development areas they are likely to be dismissed. This is not a dyslexic problem but a organisational problem. If you introduce systems that help dyslexic employees achieve in these development areas why not use it for all employees and reduce staff turnover and increase employee competence.
    Everyone can spot weaknesses: ( do you actually mean your organisation requires you to identify weakness) Weaknesses tend to be obvious to most people and competency frameworks risk these being pointed out year after year, regardless of whether the individual has superb compensating strengths. This can be unhelpful. If the aim is to identify how to help Dyslexic employees, achieve success in critical developmental areas and to identify suitable managers then the last sentence shows a failure of your system. You have identified senior managers allow managers to identify weakness and not find a solution. The same managers are allowed to identify the same weakness the next year and subsequent years without realising they are repeating themselves. That you allow managers to demoralise an employee by pointing out their weakness year after year and yet expect them to continue providing ‘superb compensating strengths.’

    The exceptional is not visible to everyone: There is a high educational barrier to entry in most professions. So if you have managed to pass the recruitment hurdle the likelihood is that you have exceptional strengths in some areas. Unfortunately, unlike weaknesses, strengths that significantly exceed the average can be difficult to measure as not everyone can see them so they are not always observed. This identifies your evaluation system is not measured but an opinion dressed up as analytical or statistical. There is nothing wrong with opinion as long as it is understood by all parties and not for example: “He is tall.” Instead of 1.965metres tall. “I think he is the tallest person in the company.” Compared with he is .005% taller than the average employee. I would actually prefer the opinion as the comments indicate the ability of the assessor as well as the assessed.

    Less flexibility in junior roles in more junior grades, (less flexible but devolved responsibility for senior decisions seems to be contradictory and requires different skills and mind sets) there is usually less flexibility regarding how work is undertaken and less need for the typical compensating strengths that dyslexics (Is that the job or the policy that restricts employees strengths) often have (e.g. Creativity or lateral thinking). This makes it harder to demonstrate capability or to flex the work to fit your profile. Are you saying that unless a dyslexic obtains promotion quickly they are unlikely to either have the chance or be able to demonstrate capability and therefore be assessed as failing within ‘developmental areas.’ Again this will lead to staff turnover. Staff turnover is a good indication of a problem as it indicates problem areas and without complicated accounting a considerable financial drain.
    The strong rarely seek help… so their strength is not seen (Management assessment Process not working) Those who have significant compensating strengths will often be able to undertake work with a lower level of supervision than others. Do you actual mean those that can conform. This means their performance is not observed (Management assessment Process not working). This can make gathering evidence (a mistake again you actually mean opinion) to demonstrate competence difficult in some areas.
    It does not matter what you do π will always be constant opinion changes. If you are gathering evidence it implies an analytical approach if you are gathering opinion within a company you gather what you wish to hear.
    The strong WOMEN rarely seek help… so their strength is not seen. WOMEN who have significant compensating strengths will often be able to undertake work with a lower level of supervision than others. This means WOMEN’s performance is not observed. This can make gathering evidence demonstrate competence difficult in some areas.
    So what is the conclusion?
    As a system analysis: I would suggest a new system.
    As a Management Consultant: I would suggest Management Training or at least making all aware that they are part of the problem. That the assessment process is not working if the same weakness is identified more than once without an action plan and mentoring being put in place.
    As a Disability Advisor: I think you are very brave and sensible to look outside of your company and to do it in such a public way. It indicates that you are a good employer and one able to review your opinions. The role of an employer is to get the best out of its resources and a change in procedures and assessment will not only help dyslexic employee but the whole organisation. Why try to fit a square peg in a round hole, identify the skills and use them. Neuro- diverse people have a high level of unemployment and also depression imagine if you were an employee achieving great things for your company but that each year your assessment showed the same weakness. Would you after 4 years be achieving great things?
    I think you know the answer to all your questions the problem you have is that the DDA stops you discriminating and your company structure stops you changing your assessment system.
    I considered your question was so well presented that I did not wish to just reply with a simple, ‘your assessment procedure is not working.’

    • David John David John
      20 December 2012    

      I really appreciate your taking the time to respond in detail. I found your comments though provoking even where I didn’t agree. Rather than replying directly to each point I though the best thing to do was to try to clarify my intended meaning/intent:

      Bottom line is that I am advocating something for which I think we must always strive… a society and workplace where all individuals can make best use of the talents they have and be recognised, accepted and rewarded for who they really are. It doesn’t really matter what grouping of people you pick (e.g. women, dyslexics, neuro-diverse) the same thing should apply to them all. That is easy to say but not easy to deliver. In my experience, the best organisations do pretty well and are continuing to improve. So they have the potential to be great places to work. I am lucky enough to work in one of them. However, in my view neuro-diversity tends to magnify the complexity of getting this right. I think that ensures that success can only be achieved if employers and employees both play a full part and approach the challenge with “eyes open”.

      I’m writing about dyslexics in professions with high conventional educational barriers to entry because I am one and found very little written about the experience when I most needed it. I’m not sure I have any answers but I suspect the first step is for people to be talking about the questions. The blog is based on my experience and observation of many different organisations and sectors over c25 years. Some of what I have written extends well outside of the professions, some of it does not.

  3. 28 January 2013    

    I wondered if you’ve seen the new font called DYSLEXIE yet and if so what your thoughts are on how much it helps if any.

    We are using it in a children’s SUPERHERO(s) book series called the NEON TIKI TRIBE (www.neontikitribe.com).

    I can send you a set of our books if you give me a mailing address, or you can download the Book APPs for free at http://www.neontikitribe.com/shop.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on these subjects.

    Thanks!

    Greg Devlin

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